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As we move further into the year, Cristy Garcia, CMO at impact.com, discusses the state of partnerships, the convergence of affiliate and influencer, and why publisher-driven innovation is a hot topic

 

The first quarter of 2024 has disappeared in a flash, and it’s certainly been a busy one for affiliate marketing and the wider partnership economy. The last few years, in fact, have delivered transformative growth for the partnership industry, and we’re now at a stage where many marketers are beginning to appreciate the full potential partnerships offer - to the extent that brands are achieving 28%+ of total revenue through partnerships.

Affiliate marketing is a cornerstone of the partnership business. Still, historically, the kind of businesses that have embraced it were innovative brands comfortable with employing the latest tech and data (such as Uber, Spotify and Fanatics. Today, however, we’re at a stage where both large, established brands and small businesses use partnerships to boost growth, engage with consumers authentically, and drive advertising performance regardless of the challenging economic environment we’re struggling with today. Against that background, let’s take a look at the hot topics for affiliate marketing in Q2 and beyond.

 

Onboarding key stakeholders

Affiliate marketing is definitely having a moment, but that doesn’t mean it is a universally adopted form of marketing. Some marketers struggle to get a seat at the table during budget discussions because it’s not as predictive as paid search or other automated advertising. That said, getting buy-in with stakeholders early is a proven way to fast track partnership success. 

What is the best way to do this? Educating your company’s  marketing and sales leaders is a great place to start, providing research about the partnership economy and its numerous benefits. Once leaders understand how you “pay-for-performance” and  that they can leverage different partners as extensions of their teams, it’s an easy conversation.

If you want to convince stakeholders within your business to invest in affiliate marketing, time spent with the CFO is rarely wasted. And trust me, talking to them about the CPA (cost-per acquisition) payment model will brighten their day. But ultimately, spending time with your CFO can help you appreciate their view on marketing, how they understand return on investment and provide a broad perspective of your company's priorities. 

impact.com top tip: When speaking to marketing leaders, it’s important to demonstrate how performance marketing can make the most of their (likely reduced) budget, how affiliate partners can be a resource-light extension of their team, and how partnership platforms efficiently house numerous adtech tools under one SaaS roof.

 

Affiliate or influencer? Use both

There’s a lot of talk about how affiliates and influencers are on a convergence path, and while this is true in many ways, there are distinct differences as to where their positions merge in the funnel. There’s no denying this is a recent shift: historically influencers only played a role at the top of the funnel, but with innovative tracking and reporting technology they now play an important role across all stages of the consumer journey. It’s when these two trusted sources of information are leveraged together that a pathway to enhanced credibility, broadened reach and faster conversions link the entire customer journey. 

For example, in the awareness stage of the customer journey, let’s say a brand partners with Better Homes and Gardens magazine to introduce a product for new moms. They may add the item to an appropriate upcoming article listing top presents for new mothers. This is called commerce content, and is often seen in the form of review articles, gift guides or “listicles”, to name a few of the popular formats.

Extrapolating the above example further, maybe a mommy influencer is unboxing this new product to bring awareness to their followers, many of whom happen to be Better Homes and Gardens readers. The power of the combined endorsement is huge. These are two trusted sources of information sharing a similar message - and in an authentic way where they can remain true to their voice. This approach beats any traditional advertisement or brand-sponsored message, and the cost for these partnerships are free until the product is purchased, when a commission is paid. 

So, while there are similarities between influencers and affiliates, they are at their strongest when paired together to work across the full funnel and expand reach, strengthen credibility, and accelerate conversions. 

impact.com top tip: Dig a little deeper into impact.com’s thoughts on the affiliate/influencer relationship with this webinar, featuring Whitney Niesz, Sr. Global Affiliate and Influencer Marketing Lead for Amazon Music, and Jenn Betz, VP of Affiliates, Influencers & Partnerships for Resident Home.

 

Speak to the buyer

 

Audience behavior is constantly evolving in the digital world. Consumers have never been more distrusting and annoyed with traditional ads, so speaking to them directly and transparently gives brands the best chance of developing relationships built on authenticity and trust. Get close to problems consumers are facing, service their needs with fantastic content, and you can’t go wrong.

Affiliate marketing offers brands numerous possibilities to make meaningful connections with consumers across all stages of the buyer journey. Affiliates can speak to customers with authenticity as they seek out reviews and recommendations from those they trust, including publishers and creators.

For example, an affiliate might create exciting content that introduces a new product in the consideration phase via entertaining information and informative comparisons to consumers, helping their decision-making process. Alternatively, in the conversion section, an affiliate might offer cashback perks or discounts and valuable product insights to seal the transaction. 

impact.com top tip: The next generation of influencers and affiliates will be a brand's customers. Referral marketing has huge potential and power, and we’re just at the dawn of this exciting development for our industry. Find out what impact.com has in store for referral marketing

 

Embrace AI

 

AI has arrived on the global stage, and it’s here to stay. In truth, the majority of adtech providers have been using AI for years in various forms, so are well versed in its strengths and limitations. But, as its use becomes more prevalent (bringing new entrants into the space) there’s no doubt it is proving an equaliser that is levelling the playing field for everyone in our industry. 

In a way this is a good thing, because it drives marketers to work harder, get closer to their customers and their pain points, and drive greater creativity to inspire and engage consumers. 

impact.com top tip: In its current form, AI's strength lies in a supporting role. For instance, it should not be the go-to for initial content creation, but the technology still offers a lot when it comes to brainstorming and ideation.

 

Look out for: Publisher-driven innovation

 

Digital advertising should always put the customer first, and for that reason we’re really excited about the innovative ways publishers will find to engage visitors on their websites and platforms. 

Technology is moving at such a fast rate. New formats are appearing all the time, and ads that do everything from engage consumers in dialogue through chatbots to facilitating a purchase without leaving the publisher site will make it easier than ever to provide customers with amazing ad experiences rooted in creativity.

impact.com top tip: Emerging technologies will power the next generation of increasingly diverse user experiences, so keep abreast of what’s happening in this space. The ability to access publishers across an increasing number of channels will also start to raise the question as to whether the concept of ‘the channel’ is even viable. 

So far, 2024 has been a year of promise and progress in the affiliate space. The exciting thing is this looks set to continue as the year evolves, and the digital advertising world continues its adoption of this innovative form of marketing.

 

As Chief Marketing Officer, Cristy Ebert Garcia spearheads impact.com’s marketing, events, public relations and communications, demand generation, branding, website, design and social media. Named by Business Insider as one of “The Most Important Marketing-Tech Executives of 2021,” Cristy leads an award-winning team of marketers.

Prior to her current role, Cristy was Vice President of Global Marketing at Celtra and before that, Rakuten Advertising. She is part of the Forbes Communications Council, regularly contributing articles about the expanding power of partnerships to drive revenue and growth. She is also a member of Chief, a network designed to highlight and mentor women in executive leadership positions.